By Johannes L. Chua

A few days into the Year of the Rat, homeowners are still “high” in making sure that their spaces for living, working, or resting follow the tenets of feng shui. Feng shui, however, is not the only thing that the Chinese has contributed to the world of design. In fact, history shows that Oriental design (which also includes engineering and architecture) is perhaps one of the oldest in the world.

In the Philippines, Oriental design is not that popular compared to Spanish, Mediterranean, or American home designs. Except perhaps for temples or Chinese gardens, homes with Oriental design are not found in many communities.

With the resurgence of China in the global stage, and the migration of its people to so many parts of the world, including the Philippines, Oriental design may also see a resurgence. Manila Bulletin Lifestyle talks to interior designer Florence Ang to ask her if Oriental design will be of interest to Filipino homeowners and how one can start to incorporate that design in one’s living space.

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NATURE INSIDE Part of putting Oriental design in an abode is to put scenes of nature on walls, or to use rocks and wood as part of design details

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“When we say Oriental, it is not only referring to Chinese design. Oriental can also mean Japanese or Korean, mainly from East Asia,” says Ang. “In fact, this design is not ‘foreign’ to Filipinos, as you can see it at Chinese restaurants, Japanese spas, or Korean noraebang.”

Ang, however, says that the Oriental design is not that dominant in the Philippines as compared to countries such as Singapore or Thailand, mainly because of the “strong influence of religion.”

“We have been doing trade with China long before the Spaniards came. Our ancestors traded with the Chinese, but did not use religion as part of the ‘trade.’ Later, the Chinese who came to the Philippines in early 19th century tried to assimilate, even adopting Filipino surnames. They brought their craft, their business skills, or their food, but a lot did not insist to have their homes built in Oriental styles.”

With modern times, Ang says what we “have seen in popular kung-fu movies is not what is now present in East Asian countries.”

“Homes in these countries are now very modern, yet they have retained a ‘piece’ that’s very Oriental. This can be seen, for example, in a house with a small pagoda; or a lawn with a pond or water feature. This can also be seen in roofs, or gates, or a door. They incorporate Oriental designs in a house so seamlessly that there is no element that is out of place,” Ang says.

In a Philippine setting, how can you start incorporating Oriental design in your home? Ang shares these five easy steps to consider.

Think of calm and throw away clutter.

Oriental-style homes evoke an image of calm and tranquility. In a Japanese home, for example, Zen-inspired design entails soothing corners, clean surroundings, and a peaceful ambience. So the first—and most basic—thing you can do is to clean your house. No matter what design you want for your house, clutter is not a welcome sight.

Mix and match creatively

“More or less, you have to know what your design ‘leaning’ should be,” says Ang. “Are you gravitating toward Japanese design—cleaner, simpler, and minimalist; or you are into Chinese and Indian design—more opulent, with striking colors, and ornate furniture.”

Whatever you choose, Ang advises to “mix and match creatively.” For example, she says that one can have a minimalist background with an ornate wooden sofa filled with embroidered throw pillows. Or one can have a wall
with a wallpaper with striking color and tone, but matched with two pieces of futon that are simple, in white or gray, and with no “accoutrements.”

This can also be done in a bedroom. Depending on your preference, choose an Oriental color to your liking—jade green, China red, or luxurious purple. Then add wood frames with black and white photos.

Consider “balance”

One of the basic teachings of feng shui is making sure that things are “in balance.”

Ditto also with elements inside a home. Though this is not a “must,” Ang says that “having balance in one’s Oriental interior is advised.”

Chinese inspired furniture - Design InspirAsian: 5 Ways to Give Your Home a Touch of the Orient

TOUCH OF CHINA A piece of Chinese-inspired furniture , such as these cabinets, can add that Oriental look to a place; the importance of ‘balance’ is highlighted in an Asian-inspired living area

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“It is preferred to have even numbers. I read an advice from a feng shui master to have even numbers on the steps of a stairs, the number of chairs in the table, or in the number of flowerpots in a garden,” says Ang. “But in reality, this makes sense when it comes to visual appeal—a bed should have two bedside tables, a flatscreen TV would look nice if there are two vases beside it, an entrance to the main door would be visually appealing with two flowerpots on the floor.”

Nurture nature and bring outdoors in

If there is one thing that Oriental homes are known for, it is that they “invite” light and air inside. Windows are plenty (and often, placed where the morning sun rises), vents are also placed in various corners to help air circulate freely.

In terms of design, nature is prominent as seen in wood, metal, or stone elements. If wood may be too expensive (or scarce), then homeowners can choose to use engineered wood (even fake wood or laminate wood) or even bamboo flooring. Wood can also be the choice for the window blinds. You can also put some decorative stones on the foyer, the base of a staircase, or a room’s entrance.

“It is important in Oriental design that the elements are present—wood, fire, earth, water, and metal. Wood and metal can be found in the home’s structure; fire is in the kitchen, while earth can be the garden. For water, you can introduce water features such as fountains,” she says.

Ang, however, cautions homeowners about “stagnant” water as a fountain should have “flowing” water to promote good energy (and also, to avoid breeding of mosquitoes). In a small home or a condo, a water feature can be in the form of an aquarium, a mini-fountain, or any home accessories with the shade of blue.

Look into the details

Contrary to popular belief,  it is not expensive to turn your home into an Oriental-inspired abode. The easiest way, according to Ang, is to put some accessories or design that will instantly transform your space.

“If you don’t have the time or the budget to undertake a major home renovation, then simple things can be done if you really want to put Oriental elements in your home. This can be as easy as changing the lighting or putting additional décor,” she says.

Hang some paper lanterns and windchimes, purchase a divider with a bamboo design, line up some potted plants on the entryway. If putting wallpaper may be expensive and time-consuming, a blank wall can be spruced up Oriental-style with scroll paintings (with Chinese characters), decorative fans, even faux curtain.

Aside from the look, an Oriental-inspired home should also “smell well.” Purchase an air humidifier and put in scents such as jasmine, chamomile, sandalwood, or rose. Or if you want that authentic touch, light up some incense sticks to make you feel that you are on the set of Farewell My Concubine.

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